Local Blog Keeps Ojai Informed

The biggest fire in the recorded history of the area races toward your town. It is within miles of your house, and smoke is everywhere. You call up the official Incident Report web site to see if you can figure out what’s going on. The site takes several minutes — an eternity online, and an eternity in a crisis — to finally load. The result? A sterile update full of numbers: crew, acreage burned, cost in dollars — and a map of the fire that is four days old. As of writing this, the web site is completely down.

Fortunately, a local community blog spotted the need for more timely, comprehensive and always-available information — and has been delivering it ever since the fire started moving our way. It provides a long list of resources, such as sites with great maps including timely thermal satellite overlays that show where the fire is really located, and up-to-the-minute reports from a variety of sources as well as questions and answers from local residents. Spread largely through word of mouth and other blogs, the site now boasts something like three thousand visitors per day in this sleepy town of eight thousand. Clearly, this is blogging at its best — uniting a community in its most compelling time of need.

While the men and women on the ground and in the air battling this blaze have been nothing short of truly heroic, the powers that be attempting to keep local residents informed online could learn a few things from a small community site that knows how to deliver updates to residents craving timely information about their beloved home town. Thanks again to the Ojai Post for seeing and filling an important need.

Maps of the Day Fire Near Ojai

The Geomac Website has some excellent views of the wildfire. Click on “Wildfire Maps” and then select “DAY CA” from the menu. You can overlay satellite and other images to get a sense of what is out there. Here are two images that brought it home to me about the size and proximity of the blaze, and all the “spot” fires created outside the official perimiter:

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

(thanks to Eric for pointing out this site)

Not Out of the (Burning) Woods Yet

An eerie glow has returned. This morning’s incident update notes that the campgrounds just a couple miles North of us have been advised to get ready to evacuate. And:

Due to wind conditions at higher elevations, ash and smoke can be expected in Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ojai and Ventura throughout today. People in these areas should remain indoors and limit physical activity, keeping doors and windows closed.

Furthermore, The National Weather Service forecasts a possible return of the Santa Ana winds on Thursday — the winds that stoked this blaze up in the first place. That would likely drive the fire further West, right over the top of us. So, we’re still on the alert.

Sea Breeze Deters Fire from Ojai

ABC News reports this morning that, “Officials credited a cool, moist ocean breeze Sunday night for slowing down the fire and putting communities out of immediate danger.” So, for now, a waft of sea breeze has put us out of this fire’s path. Unfortunately, “The fire, which has cost about $15 million to fight, also scorched a condor sanctuary in part of the Sespe Wilderness and fish and game officials closely watched a condor fledgling.”

Meanwhile, I set up a very quick-and-dirty command-line PHP script to check the Forest Service’s RSS feed and page me when the title of the most recent item gets updated. I didn’t have time for fancy XML parsing last night, so I just relied on regular expressions to pull out the title and stored an md5 of the title string for purposes of comparison. Works great so far, and helps me rest assured that I will get the latest updates when they happen.